Too much lead: ‘Action’ levels in Houghton tap water

File photo City Manager Eric Waara on elevated lead in Houghton’s tap water: “We’re able to proactively address this before it’s an actual problem.”

HOUGHTON — Samples of tap water from three Houghton homes tested positive for elevated levels of lead, believed to have occurred from plumbing within the house.

The three homes lifted the 90th percentile level for the Houghton water supply to 16 parts per billion — above the 15 ppb “action level” set by the state.

The level is not a health-based standard, said City Manager Eric Waara, but triggers additional sampling by the city and notifications to city residents of the findings and ways to reduce risk.

“The system the state has for lead and copper monitoring, it worked here,” he said. “We’re able to proactively address this before it’s an actual problem.”

The three samples came from 20 homes tested every three years for lead and copper. The homes were chosen by the DEQ for having the highest risk factor in the city for lead and copper contamination, due to their age. The city is in Tier 3, where the system has no lead pipes or lead components.

The results are the city’s first over the action level since the 1990s, when it exceeded copper levels prior to the construction of the Portage Lake Water & Sewage Authority’s wastewater treatment plant. Soda ash is added to the water system to raise its pH to 8.

“It makes the water less corrosive,” Waara said. “Natural water, being a universal solvent, is a corrosive element.”

Waara said the three homes were retested.

“Unofficially, those look good, but we don’t have the samples back from the lab, because those take time,” he said.

The Houghton Water Department will continue to monitor the water system over the next year to assess the current corrosion control methods. It will work with MDEQ to determine if additional corrosion control measures are necessary.

A draft of more in-depth public education material is in Lansing awaiting approval. The second mailing will be for to five pages, compared to two pages for the first notice.

“The biggest thing people can do is just let the water run until it’s cold,” Waara said. “You want fresh water, and not stuff that’s been sitting in the pipe all night, or the faucet.”